If you’re like me, you remember a time when Billy Crystal was the only person that hosted the Oscars, every year, forever and ever. There was something comforting about having a comedian on stage because it meant a hilarious opening bit that mocked Clint Eastwood (in song) and guaranteed that a stuffy evening wouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Now, the Academy has chosen James Franco and Anne Hathaway to co-host the next presentation of awards. Not counting Hugh Jackman (who brought his own musical flair to the proceedings), the last time that the show didn’t have a comedian as host was either technically the ’89 broadcast (which had no host) or the ’75 broadcast where Walter Matthau shared the duties with Goldie Hawn, Gene Kelly, Robert Shaw, and George Segal.
It’s a modern convention to have someone notable for their hosting (like Jon Stewart) or their stand up comedy (like Jon Stewart) take center stage as emcee. Franco and Hathaway will no doubt bring a different energy, though, and that comes with some good and some bad.
- Youthful energy is key here. Last year saw Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin take the stage together. That’s a combined age of 115. This year finds a 28-year-old and a 32-year-old taking the reigns. It’s one more change in the Academy attempting to shift its image from old and busted to the new hotness. Oddly enough, references to Men In Black II won’t help that image either.
- Old formulas can be thrown out the window. Without the standard comedian (or showman) on stage, it gives more freedom to recreate the format. The Academy producers have an opportunity here to take a few chances with a safety net of talent.
- Franco and Hathaway are incredibly likable, and that’s a major advantage. Despite the popularity of some of the previous presenters, they didn’t hit certain age ranges. Franco and Hathaway are popular with people in a younger generation, but they’re also the kind of stars that your mom can love. They also happen to be extremely physically attractive in a way that Robin Williams never was.
- This will finally force Franco’s fetish for Japanese body pillows out into the public and create a discussion about it.
- Presenting awards to themselves can get a little tricky. It’s an unspoken contract that the host is an impartial sort that can make cracks about the proceedings without having a direct stake in them, but Franco will almost certainly be nominated for 127 Hours, and Hathaway has a shot at a nomination for Love and Other Drugs. On the other hand, this might be a pro in Franco’s column seeing as how he won’t have to climb those treacherous steps to pick up his statuette. On the other, other hand – how awkward would it be to appear on stage to announce the next presenters after losing in your own category?
- There’s no structure, which is a positive thing in as much as the freedom it allows, but with Franco and Hathaway not representing a clear genre (and because they aren’t stand up comedians), it might leave the tone of the evening up in the air. The challenge will be to entertain without the obvious go-to that comedians usually take for granted. If it’s pulled off with creativity, it could be great. Otherwise, look out for a strange musical number from the two.
- A lack of gravitas might be a problem. It’s clear that the usual complaint about the ceremony is that it’s dull, and these two can definitely help with that. However, even with momentum and Hathaway’s previous nomination, they are still young actors sharing the stage with seasoned veterans. There’s little chance that they won’t seem a bit overshadowed by the incredible talent they are attempting to corral.
At any rate, it’s nice to see the Academy producers heading in a different direction. The year I worked the Oscars, Ellen Degeneres did a great job of hosting, but it was also the beginning of the end for that particular brand of ceremony. Those in charge of putting on the show are looking for new ways to bring the ratings and importance up, and hopefully they find what works, because if they do, it’ll be all the more entertaining for the rest of us.
What do you think?